Conservation Groups File for Injunction Against Yellowstone Grazing Permits, Bear Removal

Three conservation groups have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit against the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Forest Service for allowing the killing of grizzly bears within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The conservation groups, Western Watersheds Project, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection alleged that the government produced a “flawed biological opinion” which provided authorization of lethal removal of up to 72 grizzly bears. The case will be heard in the District of Columbia District Court by Judge Amit Mehta.

The plaintiffs claimed that in 2019 the US Fish and Wildlife Service produced a “flawed biological opinion” regarding the effects of permitted grazing on grizzly bears, and as part of its conclusions authorized the lethal removal of up to 72 grizzly bears over ten years from the six UGRA Project allotments. Additionally, the Forest Service authorized for cattle to be herded through an exclosure surrounding the Kendall Warm Springs which is meant to protect the only known habitat in the world for the endangered Kendall Warm Springs dace. 

In their motion, the plaintiffs claimed the “2019 biological opinion and UGRA Project threaten imminent and irreparable harm to the listed species and Plaintiffs’ interests.” They added that “three bears have already been killed in response to grizzly-livestock conflicts pursuant to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2019 authorization.” The plaintiffs have requested that the court enjoin all lethal removal of grizzlies and the herding of cattle through Kendall Warm Springs.

Last year, the Forest Service authorized permits for six livestock grazing allotments as part of the Upper Green River Area Rangeland (UGRA) Project. All six of the allotments were located within suitable grizzly bear habitats in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). The Forest Service claims, “[t]he purpose of the project is to continue to authorize livestock grazing in a manner that will maintain or improve resource conditions.” The project is intended to support community prosperity through responsible livestock grazing while reducing the effects on soil, water, and wildlife in the region. When it comes to grizzly bears, the project’s management objective is to “minimize the livestock related grizzly bear mortality.”

The plaintiffs suggested that grazing of the region would be detrimental to several species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Including, Colorado River cutthroat trout, Greater Sage-grouse, and Kendall Warm Springs dace, a small endemic fish. The Yellowstone grizzly bear, a subpopulation of grizzly found in the region, has been placed and removed from the endangered species list several times since 1975. Most recently, the Fish and Wildlife Service classified the Yellowstone grizzly bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2018.